For thousands of years—possibly even before it was used for flavor—people have held cinnamon in high regard for its medicinal value. Ancient Egyptians used it in embalming, and traditional medicine systems such as Ayurveda prescribed it for respiratory, digestive, and gynecological troubles.
In recent decades, many studies have found cinnamon can lower blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. While fewer studies have examined its metabolic impact on healthy people or people with prediabetes, growing evidence suggests benefits there as well, and researchers have identified multiple potential glucose-affecting mechanisms at work. In addition to its anti-diabetic qualities, cinnamon also shows other health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
How Does Cinnamon Affect Blood Sugar?
Cinnamon seems to affect glucose in several ways, either by mimicking insulin or increasing its effectiveness. Researchers have isolated several chemical compounds that may have different, and perhaps complementary, effects.
- One highly studied mechanism is a chemical in cinnamon called methyl hydroxychalcone polymer, or MHCP. MHCP essentially mimics insulin, giving it an assist in blunting blood sugar spikes by stimulating glucose oxidation—essentially, enabling glucose to be absorbed into cells from the blood and used as energy. In addition to the higher glucose uptake, MHCP also increased glycogen production. One study found that MCHP works synergistically with insulin, meaning that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. Other research suggests that additional compounds in cinnamon besides MHCP, such as certain phenolic acids, may also increase insulin receptor signaling.
- In addition to the insulin-like effects, cinnamon may also slow digestion, helping reduce blood glucose levels. A study of 14 healthy subjects found that six grams of cinnamon, mixed in with a meal of 300 grams of rice pudding, delayed gastric emptying—the movement of food out of the stomach and into the small intestine, where glucose is absorbed. It also reduced post-meal blood sugar levels from 30 minutes until at least two hours after eating. While both effects were significant, the reduction of blood glucose after eating was more pronounced, suggesting to the researchers that the gastric emptying worked in concert with the insulin receptor triggering. However, a later study—which looked at nine subjects who took three grams of cinnamon—found that these effects did not carry over to high-fat, rather than high-carb meals.
- Other compounds in cinnamon may also play a role in its metabolic effects. Animal studies have found that cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its distinct flavor and odor, is active at multiple levels of the insulin-signaling pathway, increasing insulin sensitivity, and improving the ability of cells to absorb glucose. Cinnamon bark extract may also lower post-meal blood glucose by inhibiting certain intestinal and pancreatic enzymes, slowing the rate of carbohydrate digestion.
- Other research shows cinnamon may have positive effects beyond glucose control. A study of 60 people with Type 2 diabetes found that cinnamon also reduced triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol, all risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.
How much Cinnamon do I need to eat?
Here are our three favorite ways to incorporate cinnamon into meals:
- Add 1-2 teaspoons to a smoothie or protein shake
- Put it in your coffee.
- Add it to curries or other cooked dishes